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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Learners: Developments in Curriculum and Instruction

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These are powerful statements. In our opinion, they are also wrong and overly emotional, although there is enormous room for improvement in our educational system. The nation was able to survive the “risk” and even prosper.

During that same time period several important programs for the teaching of higher-order problem-solving strategies began to make their mark, thus providing an alternative to the exclusive focus on “basic skills.” For example, Gardner’s Frames of Mind was also published in 1983, in which Garner established the basis for the argument that intelligence is not a single, unchangeable property, but that there are multiple intelligences, which could and should be fostered throughout the life span.

The 1990s was a time of continuing calls for reform and was marked by a spate of continuing national reports criticizing elementary, secondary, higher, and teacher education. Small wonder that educators have felt barraged from many sides. Yet during the same era, the parallel interest in higher-order thinking skills somehow survived as demonstrated by the publication of numerous commercial programs designed to help students acquire creative and critical thinking strategies. During this time also, however, schools were increasingly required to adhere to national curriculum standards promoted by national professional associations, which in turn became the basis for mandated state curriculum frameworks in nearly every state. That trend was followed predictably by the development of high-stakes examinations for students in those states, which would determine their promotion and/or graduation based on the curriculum standards.

At the start of the 21st century, as previously noted, the massive federal law, No Child Left Behind, built upon the trend toward state-mandated high-stakes testing and required that states implement additional testing at those grade levels where testing was not already mandated; it further required the comparative public ranking of school successes on such tests together with penalties for low-performing schools and imposed strict requirements about the preparation of teachers in subject matter. The focus was clearly on demonstrable student outcomes as the key criterion for judging school quality; the problem, of course, has been how to best and most fairly measure that success without oversimplifying a definition of success and tying to whatever is easily measured. Later in this book, we discuss with the problem of equitable testing for deaf learners.


The 1980s were a time when the goals of equity of access to education and excellence in education first came together; we continue to feel the effects today. Walberg and Shanahan (Walberg, 1980; Walberg and Shanahan, 1984) analyzed thousands of studies to identify “alterable” factors that could enhance achievement. For example, family socioeconomic status or student gender would not be alterable. The authors identified reinforcement, accelerated programs, and reading training as having significant effects. They also found graded homework, class morale, and school-parent programs to improve academic conditions in the home to be effective. The finding about graded homework deserves special mention; homework that is graded or commented on was shown to be three times as effective as homework that was merely assigned but not graded. This is especially important given the previously cited research by Kluwin and Moores (1987) that showed mathematics classes with all deaf students received less homework that was graded than deaf students in predominantly hearing classes with interpreters.

Bloom (1984) reported what he labeled the “2-sigma problem.” In essence he argued that the child functioning at the 50th percentile of his or her reference group could, under ideal conditions, achieve at the level of the top 2% of students. This suggests that excellence essentially can be achieved by all children and is not limited to a select few. Because the ideal situation entailed individual tutoring, Bloom concentrated on group instruction and alterable variables such as quality of teaching, use of time, and cognitive and affective characteristics. Bloom identified instructor variables such as appropriate reinforcement and positive feedback, mastery learning (the addition of testing, feedback, and corrective procedures to enhance learning), graded homework, time on task, and concentration on improved reading and study skills.

In a sense Bloom, Walberg, and Shanahan identified simple ways to enhance learning. The answers may be simple, but they are not easy to implement. There must be a conscious effort to improve instruction and a teacher’s continuous self-evaluation of his or her effectiveness as well as an evaluation of the students themselves. We are committed to the proposition that deaf children can achieve excellence, and we believe it will be achieved through the efforts of teachers and other professionals dedicated to the learning to deaf children.

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